The South African team surprised many at the DecaNation track & field competition at the Parc de Sports, Charles Ehrmann in Nice, France on 18 September 2011, when it pushed the teams from Spain and China all the way to the end before finishing seventh overall. In the end Spain finished half a point and China a mere two points ahead of the youthful South African team.
The annual competition, in its seventh year, pits eight countries against each other, with 10 men and 10 women participating in one event per athlete. South Africa received an invitation at a late stage and had to scramble to get travel arrangements made and availability of athletes confirmed.
With the events chosen by the organisers, they did not necessarily suit South Africa’s strengths. Cold and windy conditions did not aid good performances, but then the DecaNation is about head-to-head competition and not world ranking performances.
From South African women’s perspective, the competition started well, with Sonya van der Merwe finishing third in the first track race of the day, the women’s 400m. After running in the 200m at the African Junior Championships and the World Student Championships, Van der Merwe returned to the 400m, to only be beaten by Anasta Kapachinskaya (RUS) and Muriel Hurtis-Houairi (France).
Marcoleen Pretorius, although clearing the starting height, did not progress and finished in 8th position. Back on the track, Mapaseka Makhanya finished 5th in the 1500m, and Teboho Masehla also 5th in the 3000m Steeplechase.
Meanwhile, Luzaan Jordaan, who had participated in the final of the Shot Put at the World Youth Championships in July, did well to take seventh place in her first senior competition. Her youth compatriot, Phillipa van der Merwe, equalled her performance in the 100m. Van der Merwe was up against a strong field, which included legendary French sprinter Christine Arron.
South African hurdler Claudia Viljoen scored valuable points for the team in finishing sixth in the 100m hurdles, and the same time, Janice Josephs was 5th in the Long Jump.
Mandi Brandt also found the going tough at the end of the 800m fading into sixth place after a strong first lap. Back in the field, Nanette Stapelberg, competing against the World Champion Tatiana Lysenko, found the level of competition a lot stiffer than in South Africa, ending in 7th position.
The South African team, competing in an international for the first time in over a decade, acquitted themselves well. With a mix of youth, junior and more experienced athletes, the team were in contention for fifth place right until the end.
Although they were described by one South African journalist as lambs being led to the slaughter, they showed that they could mix it with the best and did not disgrace themselves by any measure. In fact, they scored double the points of the English team. The overall winners were the United States on 133,5 point, with Russia second and Germany third.
South African Women’s Results:100m: Phillipa van der Merwe – 7th (12.21) 400m: Sonja van der Merwe – 3rd (54.82) 800m: Mandi Brandt – 6th (2:10.20) 1500m: Mapaseka Makhanya – 5th (4:29.25) 3000mSC: Teboho Masehla – 5th (10:06, 47) 100mHurdles: Claudia Viljoen – 6th (14.06) Long Jump: Janice Josephs – 5th (6.34m) High Jump: Marcoleen Pretorius – 8th (1.65m) Shot Put: Luzaan Jordaan – 7th (13.69m) Hammer Throw: Nanette Stapelberg – 7th (50.53m)
Final points standings:1. USA 133,5 2. Russia 129 3. Germany 115 4. France 109 5. China 68 6. Spain 66.5 7. South Africa 66 8. England 33